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Tales from the FA Cup: AC London, a club founded by a 16-year-old

Founded by 16 year-old Prince Choudary following the 2011 London riots, AC London made their FA Cup debut earlier this month.

The 2011 riots were a major event in London's recent history. Prince Choudary was living in Crodyon, South London at the time and saw how his uncle’s business was burgled and burned down and how some of his friends  were following the unwanted path of gang violence. Although he was only 16 years old, he felt that he had to act somehow. So in 2012 he decided to make the most of football, his biggest passion, by founding AC London - a charity club to help local kids to stay away from crime.

“I founded the club five years ago to help the local community because there was a big problem in South London: a lot of teenagers were getting into gang violence. “We have players from all over the world: Brazil, Spain, Portugal, Italy… Some of them work as chefs, others at construction sites and others simply cannot find a job so they come and play with us.  “If they did not have this team, many of them would get into trouble.”

Five years later, he became the youngest manager and chairman in FA Cup history as AC London made their debut in the competition’s Extra Preliminary Round. They played against Crawley Down Gatwick, a team one division above of them, and progressed to the next round as they won 3-2.

“It is unbelievable to be playing in the FA Cup. “Five years ago, it was just me. I was 16 years old and I was just in the park with maybe 10 players. I used to take two buses from Croydon carrying three bags with training material all by myself: one in each hand and one around my neck. I looked crazy! “So first we used to go to this dirty park, because we did not have any money at all back then. Next thing, we became a youth team. Then we became a senior team. Then we became semi-professional in a very, very quick time. And now we are in the FA Cup! It is quite an unbelievable achievement, I believe.”

At the Church Road stadium in Whyteleafe, where Surrey meets Croydon, AC London hosted Egham Town in their next FA Cup game. The challenge had became even tougher: now they were playing a team from they 8th tier; when they traditionally compete in the 10th step of the English football pyramid. The contrast between both clubs is significant: AC London players pay to play; Egham players are paid to play. Needles to say that AC London were facing a stronger opposition. But despite their underdog status, they managed to score first. They could not however, hold the lead for long and ended up losing 5-1. After the match had finished, Prince expressed his satisfaction with the performance of his players notwithstanding the result. He also regretted not having trained the day before the game. Since they are a small team without their own ground (they will be playing at Whyteleafe this season, sharing the ground with the local team), they just train twice per week at fixed dates, so they could not adapt their training schedule according to their FA Cup game.

No matter how short it has been, this FA Cup is milestone in AC London’s history. The prize money that they received for progressing the Extra Preliminary Round will really help this modest club.

“Starting the club was really, really difficult. All the paperwork, obtaining finance… I had to do it all myself. “Even now, five years down the line, it is still not easy. Setting up the club was hard, but the main problem now is maintaining it. “I am the chairman, I do the coaching, I do the secretarial work… I do everything. It is a really stressful job to run a club.”

When asked if it is difficult to have the respect from the players at such a young age, Prince laughs. “Being young in football is really, really hard,” he admits. “Some players are maybe 10 years older than me and they might think ‘oh Prince does not have the experience, he does not know enough…’ but they respect me because they know that I have only lost one game in the last 27 matches. Also, I have a really close connection with the players. I believe that a manager has to love his players.”

Although he claims to have had offers from other clubs, Prince says that his ‘heart belongs to AC London’. He has got a UEFA B coaching badge and does not hide his ambition to manage at a higher level, but he would like to do so with AC London. It is, after all, his very own project, his life.

“The long term goal is to be a professional club. Now, slowly, slowly, we are getting there. You never know what the future holds.”